updated 7/16/2005 11:30:40 PM ET 2005-07-17T03:30:40

Volunteers began patrolling remote mountains outside San Diego on Saturday, watching for illegal immigrants and drug smugglers as part of a campaign to draw attention to the nation’s porous border with Mexico.

About 30 volunteers joined the first patrol of a 26-mile stretch of rolling hills from Jacumba to Tecate. The patrols, called California Border Watch, are modeled on a similar effort in the Arizona desert earlier this year.

Jim Chase, a former Arizona Minuteman volunteer who cut ties with that group, is leading the California patrols, which will continue through Aug. 7. He said volunteers will call the Border Patrol if they spot illegal border activity.

Chase, a retired postal worker, said he and others will carry guns for self-defense but will not initiate attacks. “The guns are for one reason — to keep my people alive,” he said in an interview Friday.

Protesters greet group
On Saturday, a loud group of about 100 protesters outnumbered the volunteers, and Chase temporarily drove away from the border to chants of “racists, go home.”

Rich Macgurn, a human rights activist with a group called Gente Unida, or People United, said the number of patrol volunteers was “pretty scarce,” and protesters had only spotted a few of them.

Earlier this week, the Web site for Chase’s group urged volunteers to bring baseball bats, mace, pepper spray and machetes. Chase said he removed those items after the U.S. Border Patrol expressed concern.

The group set up headquarters outside the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Campo, an unincorporated mountain village of 1,200 people about a mile north of the Mexican border and 40 miles east of San Diego.

The Border Patrol was setting up a command post outside its Campo station. San Diego Sheriff Bill Kolender said deputies would closely monitor the area.

Chase, 58, said he expected 100 to 200 volunteers to join the patrols throughout the three-week vigil.

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